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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (original 1974; edition 2008)

by Robert M. Pirsig

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
12,577160190 (3.85)187
Member:mjspear
Title:Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Authors:Robert M. Pirsig
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2008), Edition: 1, Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Father son relationships, road trip, Philosophy, Schizophrenia, mental illness, motorcycles

Work details

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (1974)

  1. 50
    Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford (prehensel)
  2. 00
    My Mercedes is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou...An Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara by Jeroen van Bergeijk (gonzobrarian)
    gonzobrarian: an inquiry into travel, adventure, and meaning
  3. 00
    A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (jeff.s.thomson)
  4. 01
    Stranger in a Strange Land (uncut edition) by Robert A. Heinlein (emf1123)
    emf1123: If you're in your late teens, reading both of these books back to back (stranger in a strange land, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance) is a good quality mindfuck. I doubt that either have the same influence as one ages, though.
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» See also 187 mentions

English (141)  Italian (5)  Finnish (4)  Dutch (4)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (159)
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
On re-reading I had some quarrels with the author's philosophical stance, if you want to call it that. I don’t think his “new” thought system is as great as he thought it was. Socially, it’s really reducible to a garden variety libertarianism. And the happy ending, where both he and his son escape madness through a movie-like “single moment of transformation” rings hollow to me. But that’s why it was a best seller, I guess.

The thinking about attention and focus is all valid, though, as is looking for the usefulness, while limited, of rationality. Not rationalism, however. That is irredeemable, in the same way (perhaps for the same reason) that capitalism is. We Westerners took one level of consciousness, elevated it above all the rest, then threw out any insights that the other levels provided. And look at the social and ecological disaster we’ve got as a result. ( )
  CSRodgers | Aug 11, 2014 |
I was supposed to read this in high school and hated it then. I tried reading it again some years ago, and I still hated it just as much. ( )
  digitalmaven | Jul 20, 2014 |
I've known about this book for years and am just now getting around to reading it...well actually listening to it as I am on a motorcycle trip across the United States. I have been a avid reader of philosophy all my life having first learned continental philosophy under Joseph Kockelmans at Penn State in the 70s - his specialities where Husserl and Heidegger. I took as many of his classes as I could and even crashed his graduate seminars. That he put up with my relatively uninformed questions is a tribute to what a teacher is supposed to be - a concept the author also adumbrates.

It is a well written book and read well in the Audible edition. It kept me interested, not so much for the author's ideas but as an occassion to think about the issues the author raises. The author assumes a Cartesian/Kantian metaphysics and a 19th century view of science which is a view that was woefully outdated even when the book was originally published but probably reflects the intended audience's level of literacy in such matters at that time as well as the author's limited reading in philosophy - a point he makes himself. His expoure to philosophy seems to be mainly ancient Greek philosophy and a smattering of analytic philosophy and I got the feeling this came from a reading of Betrand Russell's History of Philosophy ( a vulgar piece of work in my opinion). However, this does not detract from the story. Essentially it is a story of a man who struggled with what it all means and eventually went insane and was subjected to 28 electroschock sessions which erased his prior personality. The story, while musing on philosophical issues, recounts the recovery of his lost personality. If you like philosophy, its worth reading. Even if you are philosophically literate ...have read all the canonical texts as I have...I think you would still enjoy the book.

Some of his ideas are similar to those of early Heidegger so it would be interesting to see what kind of book he would have written had he actually been exposed to Heidegger. An engagement with Capitalism and its corrosive undermining of the value he is interested in would have been interesting as well. He is clearly a smart guy ( he claims his old self had a 170 IQ ) who struggled with constructing a meaningful philosophy of life - intuitively sensing that much of philosophy has lost track of what it really is - a secular replacement for religion. As such, it deals with the issues of life which is why he was interested in early, ie pre-Platonic philosophy.

One thing I found humerous is how much motorcycle technology has changed. He fussed and farted, changed oil the oil, tightened the chain and worried about its performance on his trip. I'm riding a 160 horsepower 4-cylinder motorcycle that will do over 150mph without much effort and now has over 80,000 miles on it. It has a drive shaft...of course BMW bikes have had that since the 1920s. I haven't had any problems with it and am using synthetic oil and won't need to change the oil until long after I return from this trip. You can see the trusty steed in my gallery. ( )
1 vote PedrBran | Jun 24, 2014 |
When I first picked up this book at a used book sale, I mentioned to a friend (a younger friend) that I had obtained it. Her response told me much about the way popular tastes change. She replied that she had also seen a really good book on motorcycles.

I didn't even try to explain to her how important this book was to a large number of people in the 70's. And I picked it up because, in all this time, I never had the chance to read it.

Well, let me just say that time has not been kind to motorcycle maintenance and the associated Zen.

For those of you who don't know, this is not a story about motorcycles. Yes, there is discussion of motorcycles and even some in-depth discussion of how they work and how they are repaired, but that is just the framework around which the philosophical musings are hung.

The actual story is about a man travelling cross-country with his son through the United States. There are problems with the son, there are problems with the man, and there are problems with their life. Anyone would realize it is a fool's game to think that travelling together would be a panacea to all the problems. But the trip goes on nonetheless. During the trip, we begin to really understand just how disturbed the narrator is – the life he lived "before".

But all of this is really just an excuse for Pirsig to discuss his philosophies and the impact they have had on his life and the lives of those around him.

In the 70's this was revolutionary; today it is aged.

There is still good information in here. There are concepts and ideas that are well worth reading and remembering. (My sign of a book with good ideas? A large number of dog-eared pages. There were quite a few after I was done.) But many of the deep, meaningful concepts fall apart under the weight of years gone by, and the story itself falls apart at the end. This book is too much a child of its decade and, in spite of finding information and thoughts I wanted to remember, it wound up being a disappointing experience.

There is interesting information in this book. And, if nothing else, it is interesting/funny to hear the author lament about how quickly things are changing. (Wait until he gets a load of social media.) But, because it is so much a part of the70's, it is, at this date, a slightly dissatisfying read. ( )
  figre | Dec 30, 2013 |
I read this book about 35 years ago (really scary thought) when I was in library school and it was all the rage. Recently I read a piece in Skeptic Magazine (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-04-28/#feature) that has me rethinking my originally positive view of Pirsig and his work. Chris Edwards proposes that Pirsig was one of the first writers to “rework old religious beliefs” which laid the foundation for such New Age gurus as Deepak Chopra.

In his introduction to the 1999 edition of ZAMM (!) Pirsig talks about his own struggle with schizophrenia or a form of multiple personality disorder. Edwards defines schizophrenia as someone who cannot “distinguish between the images in his head and the images in the world. When the condition is chronic it is defined as a mental disorder. When it is selective we call it faith.” Edwards suggests that Pirsig falls into the first category. Edwards castigates Pirsig for his attacks on “scientific materialism”, i.e. atheism.

Edwards goes to great lengths to parse Pirsig’s misunderstanding of mathematics and the ostensible conflict between two types of geometry and his lack of historical knowledge of the development of thinking about zero as a concept.

Edwards argues that Pirsig turned “Quality” into “a kind of creator god.” It funny how a book can shape our thinking at one age (and selectively pull what we want from it.) Interesting if unconvincing argument. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
One is tempted to call the book a psychomelodrama, for Pirsig's intentions are as extravagant as his themes. The attempt to triumph over madness, suicide, death in the self, of his son, for our world, by means of the patient exploration of ideas and emotions is certainly an extravagant ambition. That he succeeds in finding a plausible catharsis through such an enterprise seems to me sufficient reward for the author's perseverance, and ample testimony to his honesty and courage.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times Book Review, Edward Abbey (pay site) (Mar 30, 1975)
 
Whatever it's true philosophical worth, it is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.
 
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Epigraph
And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good -

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
Dedication
for my family
Aan mijn familie
First words
I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning.
Quotations
You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.
Live in the future, then build what's missing.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Book description
Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. This 25th Anniversary Quill Edition features a new introduction by the author; important typographical changes; and a Reader's Guide that includes discussion topics, an interview with the author, and letters and documents detailing how this extraordinary book came to be. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. The narrator's relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts. Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle. In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060589469, Mass Market Paperback)

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts.

Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle.

In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:47 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

The novel, published in 1974, uses a long motorcycle trip to frame a prolonged exploration of the world of ideas, about life and how best to live it. It references perspectives from Western and Eastern Civilizations as it explores the central question of the how to pursue technology so that human life is enriched rather than degraded. Narrated in the first person, it incorporates a parallel presentation of trip details and an ongoing retrospective concerning dramatic events from the Narrator's past, creating rich symbolism and including numerous analogies reinforcing the overall theme of coming to terms with the mysteries of why we exist and how best to live.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 11 descriptions

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